Suffice it to say, March 2012 is a notable month for Canon. Not only does it mark the 25th anniversary of the first EOS SLR, but it's also ushering in Canon's latest addition to its full-frame DSLR lineup.
That gorgeous beast your eyes are feasting upon is the company's new EOS 5D Mark III. That's right folks, this isn't a replacement for the Mark II, but rather an updated variant meant to sit between the workhorse of four years and the company's soon to arrive EOS-1D X. At a glance, the shooter is nearly indistinguishable from its older sibling, although a closer inspection reveals a new name badge, improved weather- and dust-resistance and some slight tweaks to its top-mounted info display and buttons on the back.
Don't be fooled, however, as there are obviously major changes here worthy of the new moniker. Key specs include a larger 1,040,000-dot 3.2-inch rear LCD, Digic 5+ processor, 22.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, 61-Point High Density Reticular autofocus with 41 cross-types (all of which are borrowed from the 1D X), dual memory card slots (SD and CompactFlash) an extended ISO range of 50 to 102,400 (100 to 25,600, natively), OVF with 100 percent coverage (versus 98 previously), and a maximum 6 FPS burst speed.
Naturally, the 5D Mark III is no slouch in the video department: it can capture h.264 footage at HD resolutions up to 1080 at 24/25/30p or 720 at 50/60p, with an effective ISO range of 100-128,000 -- and of course there's a stereo mic input for the microphone of your choice. Better yet, not only does it allow for real-time control of your audio levels during filming, but also monitoring, being the first EOS-series DSLR to come equipped with a headphone jack (!) -- something that's been sorely missing in the world of ILC cameras.
Although we didn't get to use the pre-production 5D Mark III seen here, Canon filled us in on many of intricacies, so we'll have to take its word on the matter for now. In terms of processing speed, the Digic 5+ is rated 30 percent faster than the 5 and a healthy 17 times quicker compared to the 4 found in the Mark II. Paired with its CMOS sensor, we're told that JPEG shots are roughly two stops cleaner than that of the Mark II and that video will also be noticeably smoother with less artifacting and moiré. For example (with photos), the amount of noise you'd see at 6,400 with the II only creeps up to the III at 25,600. Conversely, Canon cites the 1D X as being one stop cleaner than the Mark III, ensuring its reign as the top dog in the lineup. Of course, RAW images won't benefit from the in-camera noise reduction, but we're told that they should still be quite pleasing given the new internals.
When you're done shooting, you'll be able to use the camera's "comparative playback function" -- a quick button press allows you to view two photos (and their metadata) side by side on the LCD for on-the-fly checks of how your shots are shaping up. The Mark III also is also capable of shooting HDR images, with your choice of up to seven exposures (up to three stops over and under) to work with. Other features new to this puppy are "in-camera RAW processing, Scene Intelligent Auto mode, two forms of movie compression (ALL-I and IPB), and support for high-speed UDMA 7 Compact Flash memory cards." By the way, you'll still be restricted to 29 minutes and 59 seconds of shooting time (Canon's way of avoiding those European HD camcorder taxes as it has on many of its DSLRs).
Remember the updated button placements on back that we mentioned? Along the left side of the screen you'll notice a rate button (for starring photos quickly during a shooter and a creative photo button, while on the right there's now a dedicated Live view toggle, along with a multi-function button near the shutter button (we're told these placements could change once the final version is set in stone). You'll also find that the power switch has made its way over to top left, positioned directly behind the now pro bono locking mode dial on the top left. Notably, the inner portion of the circular control-wheel is actually touch sensitive -- since you'll be able to make adjustments to parameters such as exposure and audio levels while recording, it'll spare your tracks of any annoying clicks that could result otherwise.
Alright, we get it; all of this info is dandy, but now you want to know about availability, accessories and pricing. The EOS 5D Mark III is slated to hit shelves by the end of March, priced at $3,500 for the body-only and $4,300 as kit with an EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens. Also available at launch, will be Canon's new $630 Speedlite 600EX-RT and its $470 Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT (essentially all the tech of the former, minus the flash itself). Once April rolls around, you'll also be able to get your mitts on the $390 GP-E2 GPS receiver, $850 WFT-E7A Wireless Transmitter, and of course, the $490 BG-E11 Battery Grip (weather-resistant, with room for two batteries).
On a related note, Canon also informed that Mark II will soon be get's its price reduced, but there's no word on an exact number just yet. We'll be sure to get some shooting time in with the Mark III as soon as we can, but in the meantime, check out the galleries and press release below for more of the nitty-gritty.